Sept. 3, 1888: Though classes for Catholic students had been held before this date, the official beginning of Catholic schools in Spokane is usually traced to the opening of Our Lady of Lourdes school in a new, two-story brick building staffed by Holy Names sisters. Enrollment: 58 girls and 44 boys. The building, thanks to a “miracle,” survived downtown Spokane’s destructive fire of 1889.
According to Spokesman-Review archives: “As the flames neared the school, Sister Mary Michael gave Father Rebmann a relic of Saint Amable to throw into the fire … Suddenly and swiftly the wind changed. Church and school were saved.”
September 1929: Marycliff High School, an all-girls school, opened on Spokane’s South Hill, joining Gonzaga High School (all boys) and Holy Names Academy (all girls) as secondary school options for Catholic kids. Two years earlier, The Spokesman-Review reported that Spokane’s 11 parochial schools, elementary and secondary, were filled nearly to capacity with 2,618 students.
Fall 1960: More than 200 first-graders were turned away from several of Spokane’s dozen Catholic elementary schools. Enrollment in grade schools and high schools hit an all-time high of 11,404.
Why so crowded? Baby boomers, born in record numbers in the 1950s, were now school-age. Parish schools had plenty of low-cost help: sisters from nine different religious communities who staffed the schools. Still, Catholic students were asked to contribute to school budgets by selling tape, light bulbs and chocolate.
Fall 1972: Students from six closed South Hill parish schools consolidated into All Saints and Cataldo. Enrollment was declining as parents chose public schools over parochial, often because of sports and extracurricular opportunities. And the teaching sisters were leaving the schools, adding greatly to school expenses because the sisters were paid about half the salary of the schools’ lay teachers.
By the end of the 1970s, several more parish elementary schools would consolidate. Marycliff and Holy Names would close; Gonzaga Prep would become co-ed.
Jan. 20, 1987: Sister Joseph Marie Kasel, superintendent of Spokane Catholic schools, told the media: “We’ve been here for 100 years, and we’ll be here for another 100 years.” And indeed, throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, Catholic schools remained a stable education option in Spokane. More elementary schools consolidated, enrollment went up and down, and tuition increased, but the schools remained vital.
December 2004: The Diocese of Spokane declared bankruptcy after the clergy sex-abuse crisis finally came to light; it stretched back decades and implicated several priests who had contact with Catholic school kids. The bankruptcy ended in 2007 with a $48 million settlement divided among 180 victims.
A second $1.5 million settlement, announced in May 2012, helped avoid the foreclosure of certain parishes and ended some worry that the school system would be dramatically affected.
December 2011: Spokane Diocese Bishop Blase Cupich, along with more than a dozen prominent Northwest Catholics, created the Nazareth Guild initiative to raise money to support diocesan schools.